CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

The Existentialist Art of Bernard Buffet

2 minute read

Nature Morte by Bernard Buffet

Nature Morte by Bernard Buffet

Bernard Buffet is an internationally renowned post-war French painter, celebrated for his mastery of Expressionism. Unlike so many artists from the prior generation, Buffet achieved critical and commercial success during his lifetime and, more impressively, did so from a young age.

While his emotionally charged figurative paintings planted him in the Expressionist movement, the artist was also a member of the L'Homme-Temoin (literal translation: Witness-Man), a group of Parisian anti-abstract artists who, “...bore witness to...the emptiness of the world, the desolation of things deserted in the ghost-like barrenness of space, man's vulnerability” (Werner Haftmann). In spite of this pessimistic outlook, the group's work proved desirable for collectors, with that of Buffet being especially sought after.

Maison dans la Campagne by Bernard Buffet

Maison dans la Campagne by Bernard Buffet

Born in 1928, Buffet was raised in Paris, where he received a traditional Catholic education until he was expelled from school in 1939. In spite of his poor academic performance, the young teen showed promising artistic talent and was thus awarded admission to l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts at the age of 15. Buffet studied at the school for two years, while simultaneously working in the studio of figurative painter Eugene Narbonne.

Geraniums by Bernard Buffet

Geraniums by Bernard Buffet

Buffet's brief stint of formal fine arts education proved sufficient; the career of this French artist rapidly accelerated in the succeeding years. In 1946, the artist exhibited a self-portrait at Paris' Salon des moins de Trente Ans. The following year, Buffet joined two other salons, the Salon des Independants and Salon d'Automne, in addition to having his first solo show. At the exhibition, which was held at Art Impressions, art critic Raymond Cogniat purchased one of Buffet's paintings for the collection of the Paris National Museum of Modern Art. Shortly thereafter, Buffet took commercial gallery representation from Emmanuel David and Maurice Garnier.

At 20 years old, Buffet received the Critic's Prize in a group exhibition at Galérie Saint-Placide in Paris. Throughout the 1950s, Buffet's work received increased visibility; he began to exhibit work in New York, was ranked as the best post-war artist in Connaissance des Arts magazine, received a retrospective exhibition at the Galérie Charpentier, and was written up in the New York Times as one of “France's Fabulous Young Five.”

Nature Morte by Bernard Buffet

Nature Morte by Bernard Buffet

In the mid-1950s, Buffet left Paris, initially moving to Château l'Arc near Aix-en-Provenace and then to Brittany before ultimately settling in Tourtour in southern France, where he lived until his death. Buffet suffered from Parkinson's disease at the end of his life, which eventually prevented the artist from producing work. Frustrated by his fate, the artist took his own life at the age of 71 in 1999.

Roses Rouge Fond Bleu by Bernard Buffet

Roses Rouge Fond Bleu by Bernard Buffet

Along the way, the artist continued to gain popularity and acclaim. In 1973, Buffet was awarded Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. That same year, Japanese collector Kitchiro Okana opened the Bernard Buffet Museum in Surugadaira, Japan, whose collection has grown to include approximately 1000 works by the artist. In 1974, Buffet was elected to the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts. Retrospective exhibitions during the artist's lifetime were held in Kassel, Seoul, Tokyo, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, ans Zurich. Today the artist's work can be found in good conodition in the collections of many major museums, including the Vatican Pinocoteca, the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Tate (London), and more.  These pieces of original painting reflect the same colors and styles he typically would use throughout his career.

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